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Mara Braun returns to Gophers lineup, ignites WNIT run

Mara Braun and Sophie Hart returned to the court in time for the Gophers’ WNIT matches.
Image by University of Minnesota Athletics (courtesy)
The Gophers advanced to the Super 16 after a 77-62 win over Pacific University.

Mara Braun caught a pass from teammate Grace Grocholski. She shot the ball from beyond the 3-point line and watched it go in, smiling from ear to ear as it fell from the net.

Braun spun in front of the Williams Arena crowd as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She was back to playing the sport she loves.

The leading scorer missed the last 11 games after she suffered an ankle injury on Jan. 28 against Illinois. The injury was Braun’s first that required surgery.

Her return came after the Gophers lost 11 of their last 14 games. The team showed signs of improvement in the Big Ten Tournament and is making their Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) run.

In her time away, Braun said she was reminded of her passion for basketball.

“It’s a lot better to be able to play than to have to sit down and watch,” Braun said.

Braun was not the only Gopher returning from an injury. Sophie Hart made her return after missing six games due to a left hip injury.

Gophers head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said she was given instructions on how often she can put Braun in the game to ensure a full recovery. Braun spent her time eagerly awaiting her chance to score.

“I’m just sitting there like, ‘Okay, when is it going to be time,’” Braun said.

Before defeating the Pacific Tigers in round two of the WNIT, the Gophers had not played a basketball game since March 7. Hart said that contributed to an accumulation of rust.

Minnesota shot 50% from the free-throw line and was outscored 40-37 in the second half.

“There’s a little bit of chemistry that wasn’t quite clicking,” Hart said.

Plitzuweit said both Braun and Hart were cleared to practice in a team setting “just a few practices ago.”

Braun played 20 minutes and was just under Hart’s team-high 14 points with 12. Plitzuweit applauded her performance, but Braun was not satisfied.

“I’m still working [on getting] that shot back a little bit,” Braun said. “I’ve given myself a little grace and know that it’ll come back game by game and just keep shooting it.”

In the minimal practice time the two had, Plitzuweit said Braun and Hart had moments when it seemed like they never missed a day, whereas other times, they struggled. 

“We’re trying to get her into a rhythm, but we’re really not letting her get into a rhythm when she can only play a couple minutes at a time,” Plitzuweit said.

After the game against Pacific, Plitzuweit admitted there is still uncertainty about how she will use Braun throughout the tournament and said she will consult with the team’s medical staff to devise a plan that works for Braun.

The Gophers’ win over the Tigers advanced them to the Super 16 in the WNIT where they will play the North Dakota State Bison on Friday. 

The Bison finished second in the Summit League and were the runner-up in the Summit League Tournament.

The last time the two teams met was on Nov. 15, 2023. The Gophers won 75-53 and improved to 3-0 on the season.

“The biggest thing I remember [from the NDSU game] is splitting my eyebrow open,” Braun jokingly said. “Just adding to some scars on my body lately.”

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  • Gary Cohen
    Mar 31, 2024 at 4:28 pm

    But, sadly, Mara was injured again at the end of the NDSU win on Friday night.